When things change quickly, do you turn into a figure skater or a sprinter?
My husband and I are now living in the United Kingdom, while I complete my PhD. South Africa is… tumultuous at the moment and my studies, as many other scholars and academics would testify, are suffering because of it. Free, decolonised, decommodified, quality socialist education might come at the expense of a few years of stability. The fight must continue, and be carried on the shoulders of our youth to the gates of parliament, but my own story in this saga has come to an end. The words cannot come out of my mouth – I’m an outsider, as I’ve been told many times, due to my dual nationality, my skin, my heritage, my language, and my privilege, and so my story has come to an end.
It sits ill with me, because my research interest is decolonisation and particularly media representation thereof. To be told, repeatedly, that it’s not my place to speak, to analyse, to compare, to debate, to watch, to be present, and that I must sit down, is a jagged little pill.
Completing my PhD thesis under this narrative, in the smoke and flames of anti-colonialist destruction, was difficult. No wait. I don’t mean difficult. I mean impossible. I couldn’t string two words together let alone a long-form argument. I couldn’t hold basic conversations with friends and family, let alone watch the blinking cursor on a crisp white page taunt me with rhythmic fetishism.
This depression is not the only reason why we moved, but I cannot pretend it wasn’t a contributing factor. I was told categorically there are no academic jobs available for me – and have been passed over numerous times – and I don’t think it’s got much to do with my use of the Oxford comma. Leaving the country of my birth was hard, and it’ll continue to be harder as time goes forth, but I also need to focus on “getting a job” and being “gainfully employed” and, sadly, if I stayed where I was, where we were, my 12 years of higher education would have been for naught. I’m not the only one in this situation, and I’m absolutely better off than many thousands of others. But this is my story right now, and I have to complete it.
And that’s exactly what I’m doing. We’re currently living with relatives in limbo in the rural countryside – which is a massive readjustment having just come from vibrant and cosmopolitan and multiracial and apparently racist Cape Town. People here have *absolutely* no idea about the protest action in South Africa. They might have heard something on the news once, about “riots” and “black on black violence” but there’s no discussion, no context, no agency, no depth. All Razzmatazz and no Analysis. Such is the way of news about Africa. And yet again it falls on my white, feminist, privileged, settler shoulders to give other white Europeans some direction in understanding about Africa.
This should not be my story to tell. But until there are others who are in the same position as I, able to speak to a wide engaged audience about the realities and representations of Africa, then it’s a responsibility I have to carry. I should be able to point to other philosophers other than Mbembe and Mudimbe and Appiah and Achebe, to black feminist womxn, to multiracial, cross-cultured individuals, and to South African intellectuals, those who hold colonial powers to account not just for the strangulation of culture but also for the frames and narratives we see on mainstream media. I should be able to read academics and individuals who do not quote Fanon at face value, and who understand we live in different globalist times. I should be able to say South African names who are experts in South African culture, and not refer to French or American or German or English names who are “experts” on “Africa” (whatever Africa is…). But that’s a fight I’m going to have to take on – in my white shoes and privileged coat.
Until we have in South Africa a properly de-colonised, de-commidifed, feminist, and multicultural curricula, I’m going to have to refer to and submit to and follow African “experts” who are white, foreign, usually masculine, English speaking, and who “visit” Africa, rather than engage. Who follow the research because it’s trendy, who speak for the poor but who are not poor themselves, who speak for the colour but who are pale, who distance themselves from narratives because it’s easier to go with the flow. I am a product of this colonised education system, and it shows all over my research and my face. But we can be allies without friendly fire, and until the education system is *radically* overhauled, from primary to tertiary, from economies to nutrition, we will still be snakes biting our own tails, and fighting in a tunnel.
Featured image: My own photo of the RhodesMustFall student meeting at UCT in 2015. Blog image: Credit: INDEPENDENT MEDIA